Your story..Our story

We’re now approaching the end of The Hands Up Project certificate in Remote Theatre. It’s been a great course. With teachers from Argentina, Canada, Czechia, Mexico, Palestine, Serbia, and Syria participating it’s been really international and intercultural, and we’ve all learnt a lot about Remote Theatre – and indeed about its new variant with only one actor per webcam which we’re calling Lockdown Theatre

We’re now looking at ways of devising remote plays, and one way we’ve explored is a very simple, but highly personalised form – Your story…Our story. This is very loosely based on Playback theatre – a kind of semi spontaneous psycho-drama technique where audience members tell stories that are then spontaneously performed by the actors.

I’ve done basic Playback Theatre training and seen it used really well as a form of therapy, but I’m a language teacher not a therapist, and I wouldn’t feel qualified at all to deal with very traumatic issues if they came up. For our purposes, as language teachers I think it will work best if the stories are humorous and light or focus on positive, life changing events, rather than digging up very disturbing memories.

So last week I set it up by telling a personal story from my childhood which Imad and Irena then spontaneously performed. You can see the recording of this below. I think there’s something very engaging about seeing your own story performed by someone else, and something very useful may be happening in terms of language development. I certainly found it really interesting seeing my ‘marble mine’ story enacted in this way.

Then at the end of the session, I asked the participants to email me their own personal stories written down that we could use for this activity. This week I redistributed two stories to each small group of teachers – making sure they didn’t get their own story and without telling them whose stories they had.

They are now working on preparing a piece of remote theatre out of the stories (their favourite one, both of them, or, more challengingly, combining both stories into one) and these will be performed in the next few weeks.

So wherever you are in the world, if you’d like to get your students involved in this, doing Your Story, Our Story as a kind of online exchange with some students in Palestine, then please let us know and we’ll try to sort it out.

Thirteen girls from around the world and four volunteers in a Zoom room.

Write the ending to this sentence while we’re waiting for people to join, I said. And they did.

“I’m happy to be here today because..” 

I want to improve my English, and know new people 🙂

I love  seeing your faces.

I am with you in a Zoom and this makes me happy.

I really like interacting and this opportunity to be with you.

I missed you all and now I see you.

I like talk with other people.

It’s a nice break from work!

All of you make me happy and young. 

I meet with you.

I’m so happy to join you all today. 

I love meet new people, all the week I’m waiting for Thursday.

It was a pretty good start to a session!

The idea for today was to talk about our world and the changes we’d like to be a part of.  We started small – talking about things we really like about our communities and things we’d really like to see changed in them.  We went into our breakout rooms with one rule only – speak English.  Of course, the tech glitched so I had the opportunity to talk to Hala about her community. She loves being with her family, seeing her aunts and uncles and going to buy ice-cream.  She wants to travel. She wishes her mum’s family lived a bit closer.  She’d like a better internet connection.  She wishes Covid-19 would go away.

Back in the main session, we shared our thoughts.   What do we love? It seems we all love pretty much the same things.  Feeling safe and secure and loving the people around us.  We love the sea, and the earth, and the olive trees and the mosque.  But we also want to change things in our communities.   We hate seeing rubbish thrown on the streets.  We want to end gender violence.  We want the freedom to travel. We wish that we could play and do different activities at school.  And we all really, really want Covid-19 to go away (and a better internet connection).

 It didn’t take much to make the link between our local issues and the wider world – the girls had already done it.  We watched and listened to part of a spoken word poem Three Seconds” by Spencer Sharp & Prince Ea, USA – see the video below. In its own words, it’s “an epic presentation of where humanity stands today and how we must all work together to make it to the fourth second.”  It’s pretty cataclysmic with dire predictions of extinction and disaster but I told the girls about the hopeful ending and that the hopeful ending was them.  They seemed okay with that.

Back in our breakout rooms, the girls had chosen different responses to what they’d seen. Some chose to make a poster, some to write a letter to the earth, and just two – Dana from Argentina and Elif from North Macedonia – chose to write a poem.  Can I come with you? I asked.   More  internet problems.  Elif wrote in the chat box “Be happy” and Dana wrote “it would be sad but with a good end…to give hope”  Then she asked me “Can you explain about the travel thing?”  I told her some of us didn’t have the freedom to travel that she and I did.  I want to put that in the poem, she said. I can’t wait to read it. And I can’t wait to see what Hala and Hala and Nour and Lina and Cami and Nerea and Lola and Ajla and Elif put into their letters and their posters and poems. Nor to hear what Mia and Ghazal and Reda have to say when they rejoin us in the next session. All this week I’ll be waiting for Thursday.

Don’t forget early literacy!

By Wendy Arnold

Young learner literacy is an area which needs informed and skilled teaching and Wendy Arnold puts out a plea for a naturalistic approach in today’s blog.

Reading our own stories: Boom in Arabic children's books | Middle East Eye

Wendy has a passion for success in literacy, don’t we all? But this is only possible when a huge amount of effort is put into learning ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ English in order to have a database of vocabulary and grammar ‘acquired’ subconsciously and in some cases ‘learnt’ consciously (drilling).

You need to hear a word so you can say it. 

You need to say a word so you can read it.

You need to read a word so you can write it.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But there is nothing simple about second language literacy! Literacy learning is complex. The systems invented by humans to share meanings across space and time come in multiple formats. Humans’ attempts to design symbols to represent ideas started thousands of years ago. The Ancient Egyptians used a combination of pictures and symbols which were only decoded in 1822 after numerous unsuccessful attempts during centuries.

A picture containing covered, group, standing, table

Description automatically generated

Some Asian countries devised pictographs, e.g. China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but these logograms have been simplified over the years, including the use of ‘pinyin’ which uses the Roman alphabet.

Table

Description automatically generated

Young learners who are introduced to two very different writing systems at the same time, as in the case of Arabic and English in Palestine, need extremely able teachers who understand how languages are learnt. The children in Palestine already speak Arabic and have an excellent background vocabulary and grammar learnt in the ‘naturalistic’ way.

This vocabulary and grammar is lacking when the children start to learn English but can be acquired through extensive listening and speaking practice. Without this “database” of words and grammar, it is all too likely that they will encounter problems in learning to read, and the even more difficult skill of writing.

Knowledge about childrens’ learning is central to effective teaching. With this in mind, and, particularly for those teachers interested in teaching grades 1-3, I’d like to invite you to join a WhatsApp group with a focus on early literacy. We’ll be joined by experts in the field to discuss the most effective way to teach young learners and to ensure their success in a notoriously difficult area.

Is there anybody there? …….

A post from teacher Sue Piper about how the mix of online and face-to-face classes, known as blended learning, can have surprisingly positive results.

There’s no doubt that recent months have been a challenge for all teachers. When I got my new ‘blended learning’ timetable for September I thought it was a cryptic puzzle that I had to carefully de-code. It showed different groups doing different things at different times. Some online, some in class and some distance learning. 

I work in Oldham, a very deprived area in Greater Mánchester. My students are on benefits and none of them have regular work. Many have endured long and difficult journeys to be in the U.K and many are separated from their families. Many of them don’t have laptops or internet access from home. How was I going to teach online?

Most have a smartphone so the first thing I did was set up WhatsApp groups. I then telephoned each student and talked about Zoom and how they could download it on their phones. Sometimes this took many conversations with various family members who happened to be home at the time! At last, I was confident that most had the app. I sent out the link and hoped for the best……

Many of our first sessions were about getting to know the technology- muting/unmuting, video on/off etc. The first few were a bit like seances- Is there anybody there? Can you hear me? Gradually they became more confident and we could actually get started learning some English! 

I saw the online sessions as a great opportunity to develop speaking and listening as we have to sit two metres away from each other in class- partner and group work wasn’t possible. I would use the class room sessions for independent, grammar based work. 

Over lockdown, classes were closed and myself and my colleagues worked from home mainly making resources for various levels we teach. Three of us did a course with wonderful HUP volunteer David Heathfield who inspired us to tell stories in our classrooms. We all then set about making a whole bank of storytelling resources for our Intranet Platform-Moodle so we could access them for online learning. 

Each of us recorded videos of stories. Some of us did folk tales, some of us did personal stories and some did simple stories about everyday topics. We then devised a lesson plan for each story and a bank of follow up activities to go with each one. This included getting learners to re- tell the story in simple sentences, answering questions about the story, a simple writing task and a quizlet task to reinforce vocabulary. 

So far, they’ve been really popular! Learners have enjoyed discussing the themes and topics the stories have raised. The first two I looked at were ‘ The Lion and the Mouse’ and ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’. We had some great conversations as a group about the themes of the stories and learners responses were recorded and then used as ‘speech bubbles’ for a display. 

In recent weeks we’ve got to grips with using breakout rooms and recording responses in the chat box. Sons, daughters, neighbours have all been helping and sometimes our story-times really are a family affair! 

I’ve also learned how to make the most of these sessions too by using targeted questions, typing as I’m speaking and using high frequency vocabulary throughout. All small steps for me but giant leaps for some of my learners, who, a few weeks ago would never have thought they’d be taking part in online English classes. 

Our first meeting with the Abu Sharea-Abu Jasser family in Gaza

This week we have a lovely post from Katy Colley about their first ‘Family Matters’ meeting with our very own Raja’a.

A photo taken during the session by Alex

As I waited nervously with my family, all seated on the couch together, I wondered if this would work. Could we really connect with another family in Gaza – a place which has been under an illegal blockade for 13 years? Rajaa’s family from Al Sabra, East of Gaza City, seemed so warm and friendly in their video message to us but in real life we would never have had an opportunity to come together as they are not allowed to leave Gaza and we would not be able to get a permit to enter. But now, thanks to the Hands Up project and the amazing powers of the internet, we could meet each other, face to face, from the comfort of our own living rooms.

Suddenly the screen flickered to life and here they were! All seven, seated on their sofa in front of us – the three older girls Salma, 10, Alma, 8 and Judy, 6, twin boys Ahmed and Adam, dad Mohammad and mum Raja’a with her warm smile and perfect English, ready to help us all communicate with one another.

It was a fantastic meeting. We were keen to learn more about their lives and they told us they are currently under a partial lockdown because of Covid, with all the schools out, though Mohammed is still able to work part time. Meanwhile, the children keep themselves busy playing outside, riding bikes and drawing – just like ours. In fact, Raja’s eldest daughter Salma and my eldest Erin share a passion for art, exchanging pictures on Zoom.

‘They’re really good,’ Erin whispered to me on the couch, admiring Salma’s figurative drawings. ‘I’d like to draw like that.’

Since Raja’a is the most proficient English speaker she did most of the talking for her family, although Phil exchanged a few words of Arabic with her husband Mohammad and we found out a little bit more about them both. Raja’a is an English language school teacher and Mohammed an architect and accountant, though he has a PhD in Political Science. She too has an impressive educational background in civil engineering. They live in a duplex with Mohammed’s family in the same block and though the children enjoy going to the beach, they are not able to do this as much as they like right now because of the pandemic.

Likewise, we told them something about our lives in Brede, East Sussex, running a campsite and living in the countryside. I showed them one of Phil’s squashes that he grows on his vegetable patch and described some of the dishes we cook. Then, a revelation.

‘You’re vegetarians?’ Raja’a exclaimed. 

‘Yes,’ I laughed.

‘All of you?’

‘Yes. Are there any vegetarians in Gaza?’

‘No, I’ve never met any here.’

That was surprising. I was also stunned to learn that we were talking to the family during an electricity outage.

‘This is normal,’ said Raja’a. ‘It’s off now and we won’t have electricity for another seven hours.’ That was 4pm Gaza time – I tried to imagine living every day and night with no electricity, how difficult that would be. But Raja’a was philosophical: ‘We get used to it.’

Some of Erin’s artwork

Right now, they were running their computer off a battery and they open their curtains as wide as possible to make use of the natural light.

All the while Salma, Alma and Judy sat patiently beside their mother. Not the twins! Bored of sitting still, they had crawled off to other adventures – climbing on the windows, forcing Raja’a and Mohammad to jump up and retrieve them every now and then. Forty minutes flew by and before we knew it it was time to say goodbye.

‘We’ll film some more of our village and send it to you,’ I promised before we signed off.

‘Yes, us too,’ said Raja’a.  

I was elated and slightly sad after we switched off the computer. Did that just happen? I’ve spent many years learning about Gaza and about what is going on there. It felt amazing but also slightly surreal to form a connection with a family living in this besieged strip of land. And yet here we were, talking about swimming in the sea, drawing, vegetarians, cooking – ordinary stuff. I would love to meet Raja’a and her family in person one day but until then I know we will become firm friends from afar. And nothing can stand in our way.

Alex’s sand art
After the meeting Raja’a’s family wrote the names of Katy’s family in the sand on the beach in Gaza.

Family matters

A few weeks ago Adrian Underhill gave a talk about the work of the Hands up Project at an online event in the UK. Anyone who’s ever seen Adrian talk at a conference will know that he is a real innovator in our field and is always exploring new ways of working. At the end of the talk when people were asking about ways of getting involved in the Hands up Project, he suggested that families in the UK might like to connect to a family in Palestine for informal meetings to share something about their lives.

I think this is a brilliant idea and so did one of the participants, Katy it seems as she got in touch with us that very evening. We’ve now arranged the first meeting between her family and Raja’s family in Gaza. Here are their introductory videos. We look forward to hearing how they got on when they write a joint blog post about it next week.

Of course we’d love to extend this idea to families all over the world. Please get in touch with us at info@handsupproject.org if you’d like to be involved in a link up like this.

Memory games for language learning

This week’s post is by longterm Hands up Project volunteer in Gaza, and winner of last year’s remote theatre competition, Sahar Siam. You can see Sahar using some of her memory activities in her weekly grade 6 Facebook live session here

To recall or to remember are at the bottom of the cognitive pyramid according to Bloom’s famous theory. Yet, they are the essence of all the other higher skills.

Memory games are one of the best ways to enhance students’ basic skills; as they require the players to use their memories to complete the game. They are highly related to the area for short term memory area in our brains. In this way, they are provide a boost to improving concentration, attention to detail and visual discrimination.

That’s why they are like the teacher’s magic wand. They are really flexible to suit any kind of topics: vocabulary, grammar, reading or writing and there are great alternatives to consider while designing these memory games.  They could be spot the differences, finding a link between two related items, or completing the missing parts.

They are also an enjoyable and exciting way to provide brain fitness for different audiences.  You can make it simple for younger learners or more complicated for adults. With the right memory game, students can improve their problem- solving skills since some of these games require students to arrange things, think ahead and plan their next step to advance.

In short, it’s beyond doubt that memory games have unique benefits. The earlier students start with them, the better their brain fitness will be.

The many audiences of our Facebook live sessions..

This weeks post is written by one of our most loyal participants and also presenters in our Facebook live sessions, Diana Abu Khaled. Over to you Diana

I work as an English teacher of young learners in Gaza and also a lecturer at university as well. I would like to share my  reflection about Hup sessions. I think they are important not only to students but also to many other groups of people as well:-

1 Newly appointed teachers:

Curriculum based sessions give them golden tips on how to teach each period effectively and interactively at the same time. They become more aware of the importance of each step. After following these sessions , they become more confident as they imitate lessons delivered by experts.

2-Supervisors:

They can spot tips, activities, and suggestions and share them with teachers. Supervisors can give opportunities to motivated teachers to be co-teachers with specialists in curriculum based sessions. Furthermore, they can recommend following hands up curriculum- based sessions to their teachers as part of their  CPD ( continuous professional development)

3-Experienced teachers:

Hup provides them with a new variety of activities such as different warming up activities that are used in every session. In addition it gives them an opportunity to participate as co- teachers in curriculum –based sessions. They can also lead storytelling sessions as well.

4-Student in faculty of education who receive field training in teaching. The Curriculum based sessions are free demonstrative lessons presented by experts. They are the practical version of the teachers guide book. These sessions assist those students to answer their questions about how to teach lessons effectively. Moreover, they increase their pedagogical dictionary by listening to educational tips. The most interesting thing here is that the teachers in curriculum based session don’t only focus on teaching but also they share with audience anticipated problems and how to overcome them.

5_Parents:

Parents always want to know how the teachers teach. Similarly, teachers want the parents to understand how they teach. Parents can develop a deep knowledge of the content objectives because of the Curriculum- based sessions. They know how to help students to master key structures. How to consolidate the content in their minds. Parents’ pronunciation becomes much better as they listen to native speakers. Thus, there will be fewer students’ fossilized pronunciation errors because of their parents pronunciation.

5- Researchers: The hands up sessions spark new topics to be investigated  such as the power of storytelling, co –teaching, and many others educational and intercultural topics.

6_Students:

Storytelling sessions support students in linguistic and  cultural aspects:

First, the linguistic aspects:

1-Vocabulary: each session they learn new vocabs presented in various ways ( puppets, flashcards , context …ect.).

2- Pronunciation by listening to native and more advanced speakers.

3-Speaking -learning new chunks, collocations and phrasal verbs in an authentic context.

Secondly , the cultural aspect :

Students know more about other cultures because of  international storytellers from different background who tell stories from all over the world.

Researchers: they can find new topics to investigate and new topics such as The power of storytelling, co-teaching etc.

Finally, nothing more important than values and skills:

  1. Discussing the morals of the stories helps in creating good citizens.
  2.  Creative & critical thinking skills ( the story telling sessions are loaded with divergent questions that evoke thinking)

T/ Diana Abu Zayed /Gaza

I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes I think I’ll make some more…

I’m not sure who said this originally, but I remember seeing it years ago, on a postcard stuck to my parents’ fridge. It’s a joke of course (the whole thing about making mistakes is that we don’t plan to make them!) but then, like all good jokes, I think there’s also a universal truth behind it.

It’s widely believed, and widely spouted in educational literature, that putting ourselves into situations where we take risks and inevitably make mistakes can lead to learning. We could go even further (and possibly make a mistake by doing so:-) ) and suggest that making mistakes is actually central to learning. If we don’t make mistakes are we actually learning anything at all?

How does this apply specifically to language learning? Here’s an example where I learnt something in Spanish.

Many years ago I was sitting on the Santiago metro with my young son next to me in a pushchair. Opposite me was a man (a native speaker of Chilean Spanish) who had a baby who seemed roughly the same age as mine. I took a risk and started speaking to him even though I didn’t feel very confident about the accuracy of the words I was using. The short exchange which followed provided a safe framework (or scaffold) in which I could experiment with the Spanish word for ‘crawl’.

Me: y cuantos meses tiene el tuyo?  (and how many months old is yours?)

Man: nueve (nine)

 Me: y gatilla? (and does he ‘pull the trigger?’)

 Man: Gatea? Gatea. Si (crawl? He crawls. Yeah.)

Despite me pronouncing the word incorrectly, the man understood what I’d meant, reformulated the inaccuracy and continued with the conversation. It was a moment of learning for me that happened as a direct result of me making a mistake.

In our new Facebook live curriculum based sessions we have two teachers working together to provide language clarification and language practice activities for students at different grades of ‘English for Palestine’. Of course the students can’t take risks orally (as in my example) because they only have the option of writing comments. But in fact the opportunities for learning from their mistakes in these sessions may be even greater than if they were taking place face to face. There are three reasons for this in my opinion.

Firstly, when things are written down there is a permanent and clear record of what’s been produced . This means that it may be easier for the two teachers to notice learner language, and they therefore have opportunities to provide personalised feedback on the comments and orally reformulate what the students have written. Secondly, there are lots of other teachers participating in the sessions too, (as observers or for their own professional development), and these teachers can provide written reformulations on what the students write. Thirdly, because these reformulations provided by the teachers are written there is more potential for the students to notice them and consequently learn from them.

Here’s an example of this from Sahar and Lauren’s session last Saturday morning. They were doing a really nice personalised practice activity where Sahar wrote ‘What is your favourite hobby’ on her mini-whiteboard, and then invited the students to write their answers. You can see what happened in the comments on the right. It’s great that Sahar and Lauren had created a learning environment where Luay felt brave enough to make a mistake, and I hope that he felt encouraged and supported by the response that I gave him and could learn from it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all language learners around the world went to their classes with the attitude of ‘I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes I think I’ll make some more‘? Wouldn’t it be wonderful too if all language teachers did their very best to create a learning environment where this attitude could thrive. I’d love to read your views on this in the comments below.

Learning Round the Edges

This week’s post is by long term Hands up Project volunteer, Sara Wood. Over to you Sara….

Learning Round the Edges – the potential for natural communication in team teaching

All teaching is learning, and this opportunity is too good to miss.

Have you ever thought about the meaning of remote?  Here’s the first definition I found this morning “Far, distant, having very little relationship with or connection to”. Now try pairing it with the word “teaching” or “learning” and ask yourself if it bears any resemblance to what you, your colleagues or your students experience during a Hands Up session, be it story-telling, drama or curriculum based.  The relatively new initiative of team taught curriculum based sessions is already proving just how inaccurate that adjective is.

Teachers are worried about the retrogression in education supposed by  COVID-19 – it’s happening world over.  Parents and teachers going crazy to catch up with what’s been missed, focusing on results, exams, assessments and evaluations.  Target vocabulary, class objectives, focused input  – all of these take their rightful place in language practice.   But we have an opportunity here.  Unrehearsed, unscripted communication is happening right before our eyes accompanied by the gestures, facial expressions, intonation and occasional hiccups that make it so  fascinating and complex. There’s a different kind of teacher input going on.

During each session there is a drip feed of spontaneous communication between the co-teachers. It’s the learning round the edges of the lesson plan.   It’s what might just help students to understand a real human being as opposed to the mythical native speaker who never digresses, never forgets what they are saying in the middle of a sentence or stumbles over their words.

I am from the south of England with a good estuary accent.  Perhaps it is the first time that my students and co-teacher have ever heard such mangled vowel sounds.  There’s a great potential for misunderstanding but it’s nothing to be afraid of.  What happens when we misunderstand each other?  We clear it up of course, just as we would if we were in a room together, with some explanation, a dose of good humour and hopefully, a bit of a laugh. 

What happens when my co-teacher tries to teach me some Arabic?  There’s a good possibility that I’ll get my tongue tangled in a knot, find it slightly embarrassing and have to ask her to repeat it several times over.  What could be more natural than that?

And there is an intrinsic joy and a lot of fun to be had with the incidental English.  Not only are students exposed to functional language in a real-life setting, but they see that their teachers are life-long learners too.

It’s a part of how we stay true to the values and the interactive, creative ideals of the Hands Up project whilst teaching the curriculum, and it’s  about as far from remote as you could possibly get. 

With thanks to my co-teacher Rinan Jamal, and all the inspirational members of the Hands Up community, and yes of course, that includes our dear students.